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Wine in Context #6: Vincent Caille

The problem faced by any wine writer, critic or blogger is finding something new worth writing about. There is the old adage that the world of wine constantly renews with every new vintage of course, and that has some merit, but there has to be more to it than that.

Part of the problem is that wine has been written about for centuries. Take a long-established region such as Bordeaux and there is thus a long-established hierarchy. There is a reason domaines such as Château Haut-Brion, Château Latour, and Château Ausone are so well-known and so obsessed over; although they (like any other domaine) may have had their ups and downs, the recognition that they have some of the best terroir is not a new one, and their wines have been highly regarded for a very long time.

There are hierarchies in other regions too, even Muscadet. When I started out looking at this region in more detail, it seemed to me that the main players were well established in the minds of the region’s fans, and the one or two writers who bothered to taste these wines. They were Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Pépière, Jo Landron and André-Michel Brégeon. Others were rightly popular, but these were the names that seemed to appeal to Loire geeks the most. Tasting the wines, it seemed to me that they all deserved the recognition they already received, and thus we had the top tier of a Muscadet hierarchy.

Vincent Caillé

This is why meeting Vincent Caillé back in May 2015 was such a delight. I vaguely knew his name, through his project Vine Revival with Christelle Guibert, but this was only the second opportunity I had been presented with to taste his wines, and my first time meeting Vincent himself. The wines were superb, in particular two crystal-pure expressions of the Gorges and Monnières-Saint-Fiacre crus communaux, both in the 2012 vintage, were absolutely stunning. These wines immediately catapulted Vincent up to the top of my personal Muscadet hierarchy.

Perhaps one taste is really too soon to judge, but the quality was breathtaking, and I was immediately sucked in. I will taste them again one day, so I should be able to reassess them, and maybe refine my opinion. But the key message here, for me, is this; the more I delve into the different regions of the Loire Valley, the more I uncover new domaines, really some good, but every now and again I come across a domaine that makes truly striking wines, like Vincent. Wines that seem to transcend the appellation and their origins. Didier Dagueneau did that. François Chidaine still does. I wonder if Vincent Caillé isn’t another who should be considered in the same light. One thing is for sure, he is proof positive that any taster, critic or writer should remain open-minded to new discoveries, and that no hierarchy should be regarded as set in stone.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #7: Eglise-Clinet Extravaganza

Sometimes the dream invitation crops up. Well, I suppose for me, the true ‘dream invitation’ would be a tasting in Philippe Foreau’s cellars of every moelleux and moelleux reserve he or his father André and grandfather Armand ever made, back to and including the 1947 Goutte d’Or. Not forgetting the 1990 Goutte d’Or on the way. This is an invitation that I would only receive in a dream, so I’m not holding my breath in aniticipation of receiving the invitation.

Happily, even in the absence of such an invitation landing on my doormat, 2015 hasn’t been short of tastings that are just as special. One of the most envy-inducing invitations I received this year was to join Denis Durantou (pictured below), proprietor of Château L’Église-Clinet, for a retrospective tasting of his grand vin from 2005 back to 1995, with several vintages poured both from bottle and from magnum. The venue was Château Thénac, a very pretty estate in the Bergerac appellation where Denis consults. The date was a Saturday evening in late March, on the eve of the primeurs.

Denis Durantou

It was a pretty small affair, with fewer than a dozen tasters gathered around the table. I was able to kiss the hand of Jancis Robinson, and gave Neal Martin the secret BB (‘before blogs’) handshake known only to those who began writing about wine online prior to July 31st, 2003 (it’s a secret society thing – sorry I can’t disclose any more about it). But it was not the attendees who shone, but the wines, with some particularly fine efforts. I was most impressed by the 2005 vintage (from magnum and bottle), then 2000 and 1998, then the 1995 and 2001 vintages. But there were plenty of good efforts from ‘lesser’ years too; it was a ‘no-gap’ warts-and-all tasting which included 1996, 1997 and 2002, all of which showed well. If subscribers want to refresh their memory, I wrote the tasting up here. Afterwards we all had dinner together as guests of Château Thénac (which reminds me, I must also write my 2015 disclosure statement soon) which was good fun.

Many of my Wine in Context moments feature times I learnt something new, or when I realised something about myself, poignant or instructive ‘wine moments’. In the case of this tasting, however, it was really the wines, plus a few hours in the company of Denis (another of Bordeaux’s good guys) that makes the evening stick in my mind. It was a great tasting. Here’s hoping 2016 will bring out one or two more tasting opportunities like this.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #8: Tasting with John Kolasa

Being based in Edinburgh means I am somewhat detached from the rest of the British wine writing community, who largely congregate around London. That’s not to say there aren’t people doing good things anywhere else in the UK, as that’s certainly not true. But the people whose work most interests me most, and who I read regularly, and whose opinions I trust most, are largely based in London. People like Neal Martin, Jamie Goode, Jim Budd, Andrew Jefford, Hugh Johnson and no doubt a few others, all of whom I have enjoyed meeting over the years and in some cases getting to know them quite well.

The association between London and the wine trade is of course long-standing, going back centuries, long before privateers began landing the “new French clarets” on the docks of the Thames in the early 18th century. And so it was only natural that an association between London and the wine writing world (which I maintain is distinct from the wine trade, although the boundaries may be blurred in some cases) would also grow up. And so today most of the major UK tastings are held in London, and I travel there frequently in order to taste. Which is why it is always interesting to see a wine event suddenly pop up much closer to home, especially if the wines in question just happen to be from two high-flying, high-quality Bordeaux domaines.

Château Canon

The tasting in question featured a number of vintages of Château Canon and Château Rauzan-Ségla, and was led by John Kolasa. Thanks must go to the Wine Society. who hosted the tasting and invited me along. It was a celebration of some very fine wines, and yet it was also a poignant moment, as 2015 was the year of John’s retirement. I was saddened that in all the years I have been tasting and writing about Bordeaux that I haven’t had the opportunity to become better acquainted with John. I don’t think any of the accusations of hyperbole and greed that have been thrown at Bordeaux in recent years could be directed towards him; on this occasion, and when we met up in Bordeaux during the primeurs just a few weeks later, he seemed to me to be one of the region’s good guys, someone who fell into wine at a young age and has worked his way up. John has clearly been driven by a passion for the wines of the region, and a belief that a job worth doing is doing well. He has a philosophy, born out of the recognition that all the wines he enjoyed when he arrived in Bordeaux were the product of someone else’s work, that in such a region, where the wines take several decades to mature and a freshly-planted vineyard takes several decades more to reach its peak, that it is only right that if you take from the region (by savouring the very best it has to offer – as John started at Château Latour he certainly did that), you must also give something back before you leave. John has thus spent much of his life working for the generation that would follow him, building up these two domaines over many years. It is easy to forget, with the very negative image Bordeaux seems to have cultivated for itself in recent times, that people like this still exist.

I was also delighted to meet a couple of Winedoctor subscribers at the tasting – this is always a pleasure! I wrote the tasting up in two reports, a Château Canon 2015 Retrospective and a Château Rauzan-Ségla 2015 Retrospective, adding in a few notes from another tasting that followed after the primeurs. I wish John the very best for a long and happy retirement.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #9: Jonathan Pabiot in Edinburgh

As we mature (a less hard-edged way of saying “grow older”) our circumstances change. Children (if you have any) also mature, gradually becoming more independent and responsible. It is a joy to watch, even if the majority of teenagers still have the ability to behave as if they were two-years old again at times. And financial situations often improve (although sadly this is never guaranteed – the costs of further education loom large for any family with aspirational youngsters filling out their university application forms). Sometimes, change doesn’t merely flow, but is the result of a concerted effort. Such as in January 2015, when I decided to make an effort to eat out more in Edinburgh.

A decade ago I used to eat out regularly, but that lifestyle soon ground to a halt. Having young children meant less free time, and less disposable income. I moved to Edinbugh, in the process losing a network of friends and family who provided a handy childminding service. And in truth I didn’t really move to Edinburgh, I moved to the countryside outside Edinburgh (where I could actually afford a house – Edinburgh house prices were crazy then, and they are still crazy now); and so dining out in Edinburgh meant driving (and deciding who drinks and who takes the wheel), or an extortionate taxi fare, or (not for the faint of heart) a three-hour round trip on the bus. It all conspired to make me happy to eat at home.

Jonathan Pabiot

So what’s changed? Partly my children are more independent, and don’t need a childminder. So that’s one hurdle cleared. Pretty soon the eldest will soon be able to take the wheel; when that happens, perhaps I will be able to cash in on the free taxi service I have provided for the past 17 years? I can be a passenger, rather than the driver? That will be another hurdle cleared (I’m looking forward to telephoning my personal chauffeur from the restaurant to request my ride home). Perhaps most importantly it was my attitude that changed. After an illness last year I decided that, while I would continue to work hard (Winedoctor updates are as regular as ever, and subscription numbers are now well into the thousands), I would also factor in a little more down-time if I could. Eating out more would be part of that.

My favourite dining experience of 2015 was Martin Wishart, where everything – cooking, service, ambience, wine – seemed to come together on the night. I will be going back in 2016. Ondine was another favourite, with superb fresh seafood, and the fact I have another table booked for next Monday only reflects this. Then came Timberyard, in itself the most exciting dinner of the year, although I struggled a bit with the hyper-natural selection of wines on the list, and I was glad for Mark Angeli, whose 2012 La Lune I spotted nestled deep in the Loire section. The Pompadour by Galvin was a surprise success, as when my eyes first took in the plush hotel-based setting I though this was going to be a tourist-trap, but the cooking was top-notch, the service largely spot on, and I left very content indeed. And for great value, it would be hard to beat Purslane, the cheapest dinner out this year by far, but with some very fine cooking on the night.

There have been some less successful evenings too, but that’s life; there’s no need to dwell on them here, and truth be told no dinner was disastrous. Every restaurant had its strong points. And for one or two that was the very sensible decision to list the wines of Jonathan Pabiot (pictured above in Angers in February this year). Thanks to a Scottish importer bringing in these wines they appeared on the majority of lists that passed before my eyes this year, and as a consequence in the past twelve months I have drunk more of his wines than anyone else’s. When the wine world wakes up and realises that, other than Louis-Benjamin’s wines themeselves, his wines are the closest in style and quality to Dagueneau’s to be found in the Pouilly-Fumé appellation (perhaps this will happen when the Wine Spectator finally writes him up), I will be able to look back and relish the many great bottles I have enjoyed. Along with many great dinners too of course.

Now, where’s my phone? It’s time to telephone for my driver.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley

A few years ago (well, maybe more than a few) December would always feature my Wine in Context reports. It was meant to be an antidote to the usual festive ‘top ten wines of the year’ lists. These lists always featured 18th-century Madeira, numerous first growths, Rousseau Chambertin and at least one vintage but maybe more of Petrus. Sometimes, and I have no problem with admitting jealousy here, they included old vintages from Domaine Huet from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Then there was another list of “the next best ninety wines that didn’t quite make it”. Such lists never really spoke to me, with my cellar full of Saumur-Champigny and middling Bordeaux. Do they speak to anyone?

Wine is much more than a list of impressive vintages as long as your arm, necked back at dinners hosted by the wine trade, for the wine trade. Wine in Context is more about circumstances than scores; sometimes what’s outside the glass is more important than what’s in it. Sometimes wine teaches us something, and the lesson is more significant than whether the wine itself was a Savennières or a Sancerre (shocking thought, I know). And so, in a mad rush between here and the end of the year, here is the return of Wine in Context, and a rapid countdown starting today of my best wine moments of 2015.

Château Thieuley

Starting us off at number ten is a recent visit to Château Thieuley, a name which only the value-conscious buyer will be aware of. If you spend all your spare time posting shots of the Le Pin, Lafite-Rothschild and the like you drink at home on a Tuesday evening to Instagram, then this estate might not be familiar to you. Indeed, it wasn’t familiar to me when I visited it many many years ago on one of my first ever press trips to Bordeaux. So unfamiliar, in fact, that I couldn’t place it in the context of what I understood about the region. It wasn’t in a famous appellation, those through which I had learnt about Bordeaux, and yet here we were visiting it. This was of course long before I learnt that beyond the top cru classé châteaux there are actually a lot of domaines worth knowing about in Bordeaux. Most of its production was white wine, and yet this wasn’t Graves or Pessac-Léognan, this was the Entre-Deux-Mers. Again, I have since realised that the gravelly-sandy soils here can be great for white varieties. And was the domaine important? Don’t people just want to read about the aforementioned Le Pin and Lafite-Rothschild? I have since come round to the notion that these smaller domaines, in lesser appellations, are just as significant for the region as all the famous names (even if they don’t generate as many ‘likes’ on social media).

As a result of my doubts (and self-doubt, perhaps?) I never wrote about that first visit, and in more recent times I came to rue that decision. With more experience I understood the context for this domaine, and where it sits in a region that has so much more to offer than just cru classé bottles. I came to appreciate the little guys in Bordeaux, those turning out lovely wines that are great value, and which overturn the idea that Bordeaux is just for the super-wealthy now. And revisiting the estate I understood more clearly the work they do here, on a large vineyard, to a tight budget, turning out significant volumes of tasty wine. And of course I understood how that needed to be publicised, because the Courselle family at Château Thieuley need their moment in the spotlight just as much as more famous estates in Pauillac and Pomerol.

This more recent visit in October 2015 was, in a way, me closing the loop. It was a little like returning to a school you once attended, long after you have moved on. It wasn’t so much what I learned during the visit that was important (although it was interesting enough, and the profile has been written, and is set for publication in the next couple of weeks), it was more the realisation about what I have learned in the intervening years that made this visit significant. I have changed a lot in the interim. And that is, I think, a very good thing.

More Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Exploring Sherry #14: Dos Cortados

Having breathed new life into my exploration of Sherry I seem, since my encounter with the Don Fernando wines, own-label efforts from Fernando de Castilla, to have enjoyed a good run of really interesting wines. Next in the line up was a return to what remains one of my favourite styles, palo cortado.

The Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados is a fascinating wine not just because the quality in the glass is good, but because it affords a glimpse into the aging of palo cortado wines. Before we start, let me return to some words I wrote in my post on the Leonor Palo Cortado, explaining how wines are transformed from fresh and lively fino into the elegantly bronzed style that is palo cortado:

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados

The process might involve a little more than than, in particular the wines can be adjusted with alcohol to protect them, after which they are left to age oxidatively. Returning to them many years later, the alcohol adjustment may have to be repeated, in which case a second mark (cortado) would be made on the barrel to record this – hence the wine is now dos cortados.

In the case of the Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados the wine is aged on average at least twenty years. This has a really smart-looking bronze hue in the glass, with a broad green tinge to the rim. It starts with a fairly challenging nose, vibrant, slightly high toned, with some notes of dry-baked earth, dried walnuts, raisins and smoky coffee. This is followed by a firm, nicely framed palate, with bitter fruits and some dry-baked and desiccated orange peel. The feel of it is very vinous, with very bright acidity, a rolling warm blanket of smoke bilowing over the top, and an acid bite in the finish. A fascinating wine, clearly mature and confident in its very evolved state. Tense and long, and lovely with it. 16.5/20 (December 2015)

Bordeaux Tourism: Chateau Le Pape

I visit Bordeaux fairly frequently, always to taste, taste and taste. Why else come to Bordeaux? And when I do I often find myself living it up in the Ibis Budget or similar (Room rules: no smoking, no eating, no workboots, no ‘extra guests’). That’s fine for a business trip, but what if you fancy a holiday in the region? A stay in one of the region’s many budget hotels, which more often than not are located on zones industrialles on the outskirts of town (which means you will probably be sandwiched between the local Buffalo Grill and a van rental depot), just isn’t going to cut it.

I highlighted one rather more attractive option for the hopeful Bordeaux tourist in a recent blog post, A Bordeaux Guesthouse. Château Le Pape, purchased by Robert Wilmers of Château Haut-Bailly a few years ago, has been sensitively but thoroughly restored, the gardens landscaped, and the vineyard is undergoing extensive replanting. The château now serves as a fully-serviced guesthouse, and I accepted their invitation to check it out.

Château Le Pape

First of all, the location is ideal; Château Le Pape is in a secluded spot just to the south of Villenave d’Ornon. Even though it is only a few minutes from the Rocade, and therefore a very short drive indeed from the airport, this really feels the part. The immediate surroundings are very rural, with vines on three sides, woodland on the fourth. This is a working vineyard (there was plenty of pruning and tieing-in going on when I stayed) and so you can experience life on a Bordeaux estate first-hand, although there is no need to limit yourself to Château Le Pape – the estate is within walking distance of Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Louvière, Château Carbonnieux and even Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (although mind you don’t get lost in the woods heading there – can I suggest you take the car instead?).

Inside, the château has been gutted and renovated from the ground up; the eye-catching ceiling paintings in the foyer are original, but I am told everything else is new. The breakfast room and bedrooms are immaculately appointed, yet the feel is welcoming and homely rather than aloof or palatial. The bedrooms are all en-suite and obviously all newly decorated, and there’s no faulting the bed; this was the best night’s sleep I ever had in Bordeaux. There are some luxurious touches, Hermes toiletries for one, and a delicious breakfast served each day with more options than I can remember was another. This latter feature is down to the château’s host Hervé Audibert, who lives on-site and who will gladly cater for your every need. Hervé came here having carved out a very successful career in hospitality in Savoie, but he fancied a change in scene and Château Le Pape clearly suits him well. He rustles up a pretty smart bowl of scrambled eggs for breakfast, and considering he has probably never even heard of Delia Smith his soft-boiled eggs aren’t bad either. And I suspect he will go the extra mile for any visitor; during my brief stay, there were just two other guests, and Hervé gladly ferried them to a local restaurant where they had a table booked for dinner, and he picked them up again at the end of the night. Meanwhile I was happy in my room, flouting the usual Ibis rules to which I am usually subjected, eating a sandwich while wearing my workboots in as casual a manner as possible (but that’s as far as it went, just to be clear).

Twenty years ago Bordeaux tourism was something of an oxymoron, but that’s clearly no longer the case. Things have changed, as there are an increasing number of options for the wine-curious tourist in Bordeaux now, and Château Le Pape must be one of the strongest. Rooms start at €220 per night, although I think a stay here would be so much more than just a roof over your head. Just remember to pack your workboots.

For more information, check out the website: Château Le Pape.

Disclosure: I stayed at Château Le Pape as a guest of the proprietors.

Bordeaux 2015: Sandrine Garbay, Yquem

It seems somehow right to leave my visit to Yquem, to hear what winemaker Sandrine Garbay (pictured below) thought of the 2015 vintage, to last. Well, at least I think this is my last Bordeaux 2015 report (before the primeurs anyway). I will have to scour my notes to see if there is anybody I overlooked.

After a slurp of the 2013 Yquem in the new tasting room, I asked Sandrine how 2015 had gone for Sauternes, and for Château d’Yquem in particular.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Sandrine: We haven’t quite finished the harvest at Château d’Yquem yet – we are due to finish tomorrow. [this was October 19th] The beginning of the season was actually quite difficult, up until June anyway. Then things changed, and we had good weather which lasted until the harvest. It was warm, with a little rain now and then, which always came at the right moment.

Me: How has the harvest progressed?

Sandrine: We started the harvest very early, as we began picking for the dry wine on August 25th. The Sauvignon, which dominates Ygrec which is a 70/30 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, was really delicious this year. We didn’t pick for the sweet wine until September 3rd. And since then the harvest has continued, gradually, over six 6 weeks now.

Me: Is there any particular tri that stands out?

Sandrine: We have had four tries in 2015. The main period of picking was from September 28th until October 6th, we picked more than 60% in this window. It is a tri with good concentration in terms of sugar, but also good acidity.

The first tri began on September 3rd, and lasted a long time, running until September 20th. Then we had a pause which lasted for just over a week. We started again with the second tri as described above on the 28th. Then we began picking for the third tri at the start of October.

Combining the second and third tries gives us most of the harvest, and the highest quality too. The first tri a good volume, even though we were picking small amounts here and there it added up, but the quality is not as high as it was in tries two and three.

The fourth and final tri started perhaps on October 10th, and there was straggled picking from this point on. Last week, for example, out of the seven days we had just two days of picking.

Me: Thanks Sandrine.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Exploring Sherry #13: Don Fernando

I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since the last bottle of Sherry popped up on this blog. That was the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado back in August. I blame 2015 Bordeaux; I have spent some time travelling and tasting, and writing too. Sherry ended up on the backburner for a while.

But now it’s back! I continue today with episode 13, featuring a supermarket bargain.

I almost never write about supermarket own-labels and brands (the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado – exclusive to Waitrose unless I am mistaken – was a rare exception). The reason for this is two-fold; first, own-label wines never teach you anything about a region, and second, wines available only from a UK retailer are of little interest to the majority of my readership, which has a much more global feel.

I will make an exception today, though, because the wines are so good.

Don Fernando Oloroso

Don Fernando might not be a familiar name even to regular Sherry drinkers, but these wines are sourced from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a renowned and well-regarded bodegas. It is a boutqiue operation, only really established a few decades ago, and quality is high. Both of these wines, available in Marks & Spencers, are very good, but it is the Oloroso that really does it for me.

Don Fernando Fino: An unfiltered fino. This has a fair, lemon-gold hue. Quite confident aromatics, good flor notes here, with a dry, sandy, driftwood backbone, and touches of green olive. It is also lightly salty, a touch marine, but it is still appealing. It has a substantial start on the palate, certainly textured, quite seamless in its presence, fresh with good bite, bright acids, and a long warming finish. Challenging, upright, and very nicely polished. Very good. With all its texture and character, this feels a little like a halfway-house between your standard fino, and an upmarket en rama bottling. 16.5/20 (November 2015)

Don Fernando Oloroso: Things move up a gear here. This wine is sourced from the first criadera (the level just before solera, the final stage in the solera system before bottling) of the Antique solera system, Antique being the upper-class range at Fernando de Castilla. This has a very rich, deep, shimmering golden-brown hue, tinged with red. And it has a wonderful nose, hugely expressive, filled with walnuts and wood polish, lifted by an orange zest freshness. What is most striking about the palate, apart from the hugely characterful concantration that is, is the texture, which is as broad as it is deep, the wine sliding across the palate like liquid velvet. Despite this it remains dry, energetic, grippy, tense and structured. It is also really long in the finish, which is infused with nuances of dried walnuts. Remarkable quality for such a widely available wine. Fabulous. 17/20 (November 2015)

One thing’s for sure, I did learn something from these wines. I learnt that I need to investigate the wines of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla more thoroughly.

Bordeaux 2015: David Suire, Larcis Ducasse

Somehow another five days have passed since my last Bordeaux 2015 report, featuring the words of Thomas Duroux. Time to put that right now.

After finishing up in Margaux, and on the left bank in general, I headed over to the right bank (stopping of at Château Reignac on the way, profile and tasting report to follow). One of my first ports of call was Château Larcis Ducasse, in St Emilion, where I met up with David Suire.

The estate is owned by the Gratiot family, but in 2002 they turned its running over to Nicolas Thienpont, who in turn installed David Suire to manage the vineyard and chai. He has been doing some really interesting work here, increasing his understanding of the vineyard and fine-tuning its management, running each parcel differently, sometimes identifying micro-parcels within others that need more specific attention. In the cellars, he has instigated a partial shift away from small oak to larger, 500-litre barrels. It’s fascinating stuff.

During my visit, I asked him how 2015 had gone.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

David: It’s not a bad vintage [said with a knowing grin], but there are some things you should know. June and July were very important on the limestone of St Emilion because it was very dry, and a dry summer on this soil is almost always synonymous with a great vintage.

So we were confident at the end of July that the potential was great, but we had to wait at least two months to see if the potential would be realised. At the end of July the berries were tiny, with strong skins. The vines were a little early, not like in 2011 when they were really very early, but certainly a few days earlier, just like 2010 at this stage.

Then August came, and with it we had a lot of rain, and a cooler climate too. It changed our vision of the vintage, because we went from from concentrated and tannic berries to berries where the tannins could be diluted by the rain. Maybe things would be a little more tender.

Then things changed again in September, which was good, the weather was now hot and dry again, and this continued into October too. We had alternating dry and humid weather, and this was good to mature the skins and tannins. I think this helped the quality of the tannins. When you have only dry weather you can taste that in the tannins, and of course when it only rains they are green.

This year though they are ripe, and yet also softened by the rain, they are more tender than in 2011. Today, when we taste the first wines we have made, we can taste the richness of the vintage in them. They have a very nice, very beautiful complexity, they have rich but fine tannins, which is good at this stage. You can’t really feel the tannins are there, you can only feel them through the power of the wine.

Me: Thanks. Is it like any other vintage?

David: Concerning the balance we think it is between 2009 and 2010; the richness is like 2009, but the wines have more freshness than that vintage, although they also have a little less acidity than 2010. They are more approachable than the 2010s, with better balance than the 2009s.

Me: Can you talk me through the harvest?

David: We started on September 21st on Murmure [a specific parcel] for the second wine also called Murmure, which we started making in 2010. The first picking for Larcis Ducasse was on September 28th, on the lower parcels.

We had a very long period of picking, it lasted three to four weeks on some properties. The maturation was moving slowly. We had to pick, then wait, pick, then wait. It was a very comfortable way to harvest! We finished on October 12th, concluding mainly with the Cabernet Franc and a few last Merlots, having started the Cabernet Franc on October 7th.

Me: How about yields and potentials?

David: The yields are maybe 37 hl/ha. The potential alcohols are like 2009 and 2010, perhaps 14.5-14.6º, quite high, but with quite high acidity. When we tasted we didn’t feel the alcohol.

Me: Thanks David.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.